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Branding lessons marketers can learn from the London Olympic mascots

Branding lessons marketers can learn from the London Olympic mascots

By UTalkMarketing Editor, Clark Turner.

The new London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, have been met with a wave of negative feedback.

Eighteen months in the making the duo were created by Iris London in response to a brief to create mascots that would excite and inspire young people and encourage them to get involved in sport. The result aims to reflect sport, as well as London’s cultural icons.

“We wanted everyone, especially young people, to be able to take part, so we asked ourselves, 'Why have one mascot when you can have millions?' explained Grant Hunter, the creative director of Iris London.
“To capture people’s imagination you have to create something iconic – something unique – something as individual as you and me. We have created a flexible design that allows you to make the mascot your own, while celebrating what is great about Britain - our heritage, our culture and our creativity."

He added, “They are inclusive, because they invite everyone to take part and get involved. They aren’t ‘the’ mascots – they are your mascots."
The names ‘Wenlock’ and ‘Mandeville’ derive from locations of historic significance for the Olympics and Paralympics and design features include a headlight  - the hire light of a hackney carriage – and the five Olympic rings worn as friendship bands.

Meanwhile the Paralympic mascot wears a personal best wristwatch which also displays the year of the games while golds, silver and bronzes in the Olympic mascot to reflect the colour of the medals.

The three peaks on the Olympic mascot were inspired by the 2012 stadium roof, while the Paralympic’s head shape has been inspired by the agitos – the symbol of the paralympic movement.

For the full story behind their creation, play the video below.

Unfortunately London 2012 Olympic bosses marketing professionals in the UK have given Wenlock and Mandeville, the London Olympic mascots, the thumbs down.

A poll of 817 UK marketers conducted by EMR has shown that the majority of UK marketers (51%) reacted negatively to the design of the mascots.

Some 22% of respondents labelled the design “dreadful” with 12% feeling it was “very poor”. Only 8% of marketers felt the design was “excellent” and 16% felt it was “very good”.

“We knew from the reaction to the 2012 logo that the unveiling of the mascots would cause quite a stir. Given the outcry of disapproval following the logo launch it appears the Olympic marketing campaign has taken a step in the right direction,” said managing director of EMR, Simon Bassett.

When asked to compare the mascots to the design of the London 2010 logo as part of the Olympic marketing strategy 30% of marketers felt Wenlock and Mandeville were better. Just 19% actually preferred the logo to the mascots while 51% felt they were on a par.

“The designers would have had to go some way to create a pair of mascots that were received less well than the logo. And for some, Wenlock and Mandeville have put the marketing campaign back on track,” added Bassett.

“But others have told us they don’t see a connection between the designs and the campaign remains flawed. Whatever opinions are expressed now the real test will be whether the mascots inspire floods of merchandise sales. If they do, the designers won’t worry too much about today’s naysayers.”

And it’s not the first time the 2012 Olympics have got themselves into hot water. When the official branding from Wolff Olins was unveiled in 2007, it also came under fire from some quarters.

So why do  the Olympics marketing bosses consistently appear to be getting their branding projects so wrong?

“Firstly, let's be clear.  These mascots are playing a very different role to the overall London 2012 brand.  They are fun, commercial, promotional.  They should support the London 2012 brand, but they are not really brands in themselves,” Fred Burt, Managing Director of branding specialists Siegel+Gale, told UTalkMarketing.

“They should be judged in terms of what they're designed to do - create some fun and personality.  I love the story behind the names, but I have my doubts about whether they are going to sell thousands of them to the paying public.  We'll see.”

Burt continued, “The objective should be to create a brand that appeals to the key audiences: spectators, sponsors and athletes. For spectators it needs to be engaging and memorable; for sponsors it needs to be impactful and capable of working with their own brand symbol; and athletes need to identify with it and feel pride and ownership.

“We'll begin to see the brand in action more and more and then I think we'll begin to see what it is meant to mean.  All brands are more than logos and London 2012 hasn't had the chance to be more than a logo yet.”

For Lazar Dzamic,  Planning Director at integrated agency Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw, the most basic rule of marketing is to evaluate a campaign based on its target audience and the specific objectives it is trying to achieve with that audience.

“And herein lies the problem with the whole visual identity saga for the Olympics: we all think that the tonality of the identity should be made, well... for us - defined as everyone who will watch the event. If that is the brief, then both the event marketers and their agencies have got it terribly wrong, which the universal opprobrium of everything visual that came out of the design labs so far clearly demonstrates,” he added.

“There are two possibilities: (a) there is a clear strategy, but the organisers are loath to say it out loud for fear of 'flashing the legs of their strategy' and thus diminishing its impact (as well as trying to explain to the world's dads who are frantically buying TVs and beer packs that, well, they don't quite matter anymore)

“Or (b) someone who hasn't got a clue about marketing and design is lapping up the advice (and unwisely spending my tax money) from someone who hasn't got a clue about that as well. Either one of these options, or they know something about how branding works that we do not.”

So when creating a brand identity, what factors should come into play?

“You need to understand your market. In the case of the Olympics it’s about understanding who you want to talk to and what you want to convey. With a youth market, it’s about being dynamic, youthful and choosing colours which reflect this,” explained Lucy Burnham, managing director - consumer - of SPA.

“For example dark colours would work for communicating authority, but would not be suitable in this context. It’s also important to think about how people are going to view logos and mascots, i.e. the full range of digital devices, social media, etc. as well as more conventional platforms. Logos and mascots need to transfer well across media and platforms.”

However, chief operating officer, Branded, Giles Thomas, warned that for an agency working with an organisation that is based on a committee structure can be incredibly challenging.

“In the case of branding, everyone believes themself to be an expert. It can be hard for the branding experts to be heard and remain authoritative,” he explained.

“The basic elements of the branding process should involve the following. The output should represent the brand, message and promise it is meant to deliver. It should also feel distinctive and different.”

Thomas continued, “It should also be something that the target audience likes. Testing reaction to creative in a context and language that people will understand is a vital part of the process. Testing a concept or creative in isolation is never a good idea.”

Testing and the use of focus group in the creation of a brand identity of course can play an important role in the journey.

“No matter how experienced an agency team you have, they are only human. Great design (and indeed any great marketing) is all about getting underneath the skin of the customer – and you can never spend enough time with customers exploring their reactions and what makes them tick,” explained Kaihaan Jamshidi, digital planner at brand communications agency 23red.

For Siegel+Gale’s Burt, however, testing needs to be more than a thumbs up/thumbs down from the customer.

“Respondents in a focus group will gravitate towards what is familiar or what makes them look intelligent, rather than what is new or innovative,” he added.

“So, you should never be testing whether your target audience 'likes' the activity in question, you should be asking whether the activity delivers on the strategy.  For example, if your strategy is about change and disruption, then don't expect consumers to like it from the outset.”

So when new brand directions are met with negative response, should marketers hold up their hands admit defeat and head back to the drawing board?  For some  the answer is most definitely yes.

Burt points to Tropicana as a great case in point. It changed its packaging and removed the orange-with-a-straw in an attempt to contemporize the brand.  The effect was disastrous.

The consumer, trained to look for the distinctive packaging was unable to find it on shelf.  It was there, but invisible.  Tropicana quickly reverted back to its original packaging, and stabilised the situation.

“It depends on what’s at stake,” adds SPA’s Burnham. “ If you go back in history, the general public is generally not very good at breaking the mould.

“If, for example, concepts like the iPod or iPhone had been tested before launch, people would perhaps not have seen a place for them in their lives. For brands which have clear sense of purpose and want to break the mould it’s important to follow that conviction.

But for London 2012, the general consensus is marketing bosses should stick with it.

“Never back down – but do look for a win-win way forward,” advises 23red’s Jamshidi. “All companies should ideally have a grown-up, two way, relationship with their customers.

“But responding to petulant cries of being aggrieved by simply caving in, is a bit like giving in to a child’s tantrum – you’ll not win any respect for it. If you’re in this situation then the mistake has already been made, and can’t be fixed. It about what you do next that counts.”

At the end of the day though, is it a storm of Olympic proportions, or just a storm in a teacup? We’ll let Nick Gill, planning director at DCH, have the final word.

“I quite like the one-eyed little sportsters because they’re different; they have a bit of Sonic the Hedgehog and a smattering of the Vauxhall C’Mons. They are compelling and true to the Games,” he told UTalkMarketing.

“They may have upset people in ad land but who cares? And let’s be honest, why are we getting ourselves in such a state about two mascots? They won’t stop us winning medals at the Games, that’s down to athletes, coaches, infrastructure, training facilities, investment and raw passion and talent. Leave the poor buggers alone and channel the passion into supporting Team GB.”

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